David Deida is one of the most significant and fascinating but also controversial names in the field of contemporary personal development and spiritual practice.
As a spiritual teacher, he joins sexuality, polarity and relationship dynamics with personal growth, bringing juice back into the sometimes dry world of spirituality.
But what he says is confronting and controversial, and he claims he is constantly misinterpreted.
Marianne Williamson (she of the famous ‘Our deepest fear…’ quote made famous by Nelson Mandela) said “In the area of sacred intimacy, David Deida is holding a lightning bolt. He sheds an astonishing light.”
At the most basic level his teaching is that the masculine and feminine principles have different spiritual functions and different paths to joy and wholeness. This is a view that has an ancient history, as seen in the Tao yin/yang symbol, but that comes up hard against modern western post-feminist assumptions.
A key Deida concept is that of ‘third stage’ relating. He argues that most of the criticism of his work is based on a misreading that he is calling for a return to a pre-feminist world of fixed gender roles.
If first stage is defined as traditional gender roles, with the man active, macho and aggressive, and the woman submissive, then second stage is post feminist, equal relating. Third stage is when, consciously, the partners within the relationship step back into male and female polarities.
“It was a good thing for men to embrace their inner feminine and for women to embrace their inner masculine. But this 50/50 stage is only a second and intermediate stage of growth for men and women, not an endpoint. The trend towards 50/50 has resulted in economic and social equality but also in sexual neutrality. But if men and women are clinging to a politically correct sameness even in moments of intimacy, attraction disappears. You have to animate the masculine and feminine differences if you want to play in the field of sexual passion.” The Way of the Superior Man.
The masculine principle includes the classic active ‘yang’ qualities of direction, expansion and activity, while the feminine ‘yin’ principle is about receptivity, intuition and radiance.
He argues that each individual man or woman will have a mix of those energies of the inner masculine and feminine, but will be more fundamentally aligned with one or the other.
He says that many relationship problems come from an imbalance in these energies. For example, if a woman is with a man who lacks direction then she will be forced to step into her own masculine to compensate – to give the couple direction. If she does that often then she will increasingly lose contact with her feminine essence, her receptiveness, radiance and beauty.
As we are living in a professional world that respects masculine qualities more than feminine qualities like intuition, it also forces women to become more masculine to compete.
His reading goes deeper – in his lecture series for the Integral Institute he describes how the whole – the sum total of the existing moment we are experiencing NOW – is the tao/the source/God. But it is immediately divided into a witness, and the witnessed. The masculine principle is identified with the observing witness, and the feminine principle is the world itself, the witnessed.
Spiritual practices such as meditation are identified with the detached, observing masculine principle, while dance and movement are identified with the feminine principle.
Deida’s own journey from what he describes as a masculine, meditation-based practice to one that opened to sensuality, spontaneity and celebration happened when he met a “scurrilous madman” called Mykonos. He writes about the meeting in his book “Wild Nights”.
He was living on a beach, doing three to four hours of meditation and practice every day, when Mykonos showed up. A “tough, scarred Vietnam veteran with a taste for beer, women and spiritual teachings”.
When he first appears he encourages Deida to drink beer with him, which the ‘spiritual’ Deida is horrified by, but eventually agrees.
“I had equated spiritual practice with squelching my desires, denying them, suppressing them. I could sit in a clean room by myself and meditate for hours, but I wouldn’t dance with what Mykonos called “the lady”. I was afraid of life. I was afraid of death. I was afraid even to drink a beer and lose my purity.”
The fundamental polarity of masculine and feminine permeates everything. The masculine principle is pure conscious awareness, penetrating the world with its presence. The feminine is the manifest world itself in its infinite variety.
“Ah yesss,” Mykonos sighed. “The lady is all around us.” He made a sweeping gesture with his hand as if to indicate the beach, or the entire world, outside my cabin. “She is beautiful, is she not? And she’d just as soon kill you. Eat you alive. What a bitch. What a beautiful bitch. Do you have any idea what I’m talking about?”
“No amount of your so-called spiritual practice will save you from her,” Mykonos continued. “You can’t get away. You can only love. You can live in fear, or you can dance with her. And when you love without holding back, when you see her as she really is, through and through, she dies in bliss. ” Wild Nights